If you're reading TouchArcade, chances are you've got an iPhone bundled with a bucket of data large enough to do just about anything you'd want before it refreshes on next month's billing cycle. But, there's a lot of folks out there who only want the free phone, the cheapest service, and as such are stuck with the most meager data allotment that AT&T offers: 300MB. Apple's current limit for over the air cellular downloads from the App Store is 100MB, meaning, it's entirely possible for people on these low-end plans to burn through their data in three downloads. Now, chances are that if you're on the 300MB a month plan you don't do this, but that could all change with AT&T's new "Sponsored Data" program.
The easiest way to think of this is as a modern day toll-free telephone number. It doesn't matter where you're calling from, if you're calling an 800 number, it's paid for by the company with said 800 number. Similarly, sponsored data will allow companies to, well, sponsor downloads to pick up the cost. Developers dabbling in the world of free to play already have removed the price tag of their games to encourage downloads, and similarly picking up the tab for the download of their game removes the final barrier of entry. Additionally, the data used inside of these games could also be covered by the developers.
For the end user, this program will be practically transparent. Presumably if sponsored data catches on in a big way, Apple will need to update the App Store to indicate which apps feature this benefit. AT&T is the first American cellular carrier to offer this sort of sponsored data package, but if it even vaguely begins to catch on, it wouldn't surprise me to see other carriers quickly following suit. Free to play developers will undoubtedly race to adopt this, as most of the big outfits are already forking out tons of cash for user acquisition anyway, and this seems like the next logical step.